Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Ancients: Lawrence

For an upcoming class called "Patristic Fathers" I've been reading a fine book called The Spirit of Early Christian Thought by Robert Louis Wilken. I think my next few posts will basically be excerpts from this book about men and women just like us who had discussions and lives just like ours and said and did some remarkable things in the formative years of Christianity.

They are our heritage, and their lives and writings are an unmined treasure of encouragement and insight.

Let me start this series with an excerpt about Lawrence, a third century deacon in the church of Rome.

Lawrence was asked by a public official to show him the wealth of the church. After all, it had ammassed a good number of "sacred objects" well worth showing off for their glory.

The first Christian poet, Prudentius, wrote a tribute to Lawrence. And in it, he spells out Lawrence's reply to that politician:

Our church is rich
I deny it not.
Much wealth and gold it has
No one in the world has more.

Then Lawrence asks for time to gather up all the treasure for display. Wilken says that this was all meant to "tantalize the prefect". This is what happens:

"For three days Lawrence goes about the city gathering the sick and the poor. The people he collected included a man with two eyeless sockets, a cripple with a broken knee, a one-legged man....He writes down their names and lines them up at the entrance to the church....

When the prefect enters the door of the church, Lawrence points to the ragged company and says, 'There are the church's riches, take them.' Enraged at being mocked, the prefect orders Lawrence to be executed...."

Lawrence was literally slow-roasted over a fire, and the whole time, according to Prudentius, he was taunting the prefect, saying:

Pray turn my body's side,
It has burned long enough
Turn it round and taste
What your god of fire has wrought.

Wilken summarizes this and other stories by saying, "the Christian hero 'overcame the foe by death,' not by the sword."

Amazing stuff. Read more on Lawrence here. Yes I think the River is named after him.


Tony Tanti said...

That's a great story. What's the time period here?

Jon, Angie, Elijah & Brady said...

mid 200s